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Archive of posts filed under the TODs category.

Let’s Plan Around the Pepsi Center

A defining mission of the DenverInfill and DenverUrbanism blogs has been to report on infill development in and around Downtown Denver. Most of this infill development has come to fruition by replacing surface parking lots with residential, commercial and/or institutional buildings. In recent years, many parking lots in Downtown Denver have thankfully been put to higher and better use through infill development. While there are still many more parking lots that have yet to be filled, I want to suggest that the city begin planning for some of the biggest parking lots in the area: those around the Pepsi Center.

4-25-14_Pepsi Center Lots

Recently the city undertook planning efforts in the Sun Valley Neighborhood south of Mile-High Stadium and suggested conversion of some of the parking lots (especially those south of Colfax closest to the light rail station) to residential and commercial uses. Doing so would activate a highly blighted and underutilized area with good public transit access and proximity to the South Platte River Greenway and help create a more viable and sustainable community in the area. Unfortunately, given the large amount of undesirable infrastructure in the area (e.g. a power plant, electrical substation and massive fuel tanks) and the fact that it is extremely difficult to create economic development around a football stadium with less than 20 large events per year, the goal of redevelopment in the area seems extremely lofty.

Now if the City can plan for such a lofty and questionably obtainable goal, then I have to ask why we aren’t planning for what I consider to be a much lower hanging fruit: the lots around the Pepsi Center. With over 40 Nuggets games, 40 Avalanche games, and numerous other concert and sporting events each year, the Pepsi Center brings a huge number of people into the area on a regular basis. Add to this existing activity the site’s extreme proximity to Downtown and the Auraria Campus and there’s a lot of potential for residential and commercial development on this site. When you consider that the site is flat, has excellent vehicular infrastructure around it and has access to two (very underutilized) light-rail stations, redevelopment here seems very feasible with little added investment. We just need to plan for it.

By my rough calculations there are nearly 50 acres of parking lots immediately surrounding the Pepsi Center (between the railroad, Speer Boulevard and the Auraria Parkway). There is an additional 15 acres of parking shared with Elitch Gardens just north and west of the arena. This represents an area that is equal to or possibly greater than all the infill development between Union Station and the South Platte River and could be a huge economic boon for the city if developed right. What might this redevelopment look like? The following are my thoughts on a plan for the area.

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First I would consolidate a large amount of the surface parking into a few large parking structures (cyan) that are wrapped with residential (yellow) and commercial (blue) structures that form walkable city blocks. Preserving the few existing mixed-use buildings (red) and providing some additional commercial office space in the district would help increase use the parking structures by day while the arena utilizes them at night and on weekends. Second, I would intersperse some green promenades that could be designed to handle and clean storm water runoff before running into the South Platte. These green spaces might be designed so as to provide view corridors to the arena from the major arterial streets for visual wayfinding. The promenades would also provide pedestrian access to and from the Arena, Downtown, the Auraria Campus and the light rail stations on the edges of the site.

As long as were making big plans, let’s also talk about combining the “Sports Authority Field at Mile High” and the “Auraria West” light rail stations into one station along Fifth Street under the Auraria Parkway viaduct (orange above). The two stations are way too close together and extremely redundant; eliminating one station and straightening out the track would speed up the trip into Union Station from points south and west. The city could then use the rest of the property between the tracks for a small park with recreational amenities for the new residents. Finally, I propose that we connect the new development to the South Platte River trail via a bike/pedestrian bridge across the railroad tracks, and thus provide even more recreational access to and from the new neighborhood.

As Denver continues to grow and expand and urban living becomes increasingly more popular, we need to take a serious look at the opportunity for creating a new downtown adjacent neighborhood around the Pepsi Center rather than leave it an asphalt wasteland. If designed and developed right, this corner of the Auraria Neighborhood could become the hottest new address in town.


Density and Mass Tranist Efficiency: A West Denver Exercise

Since the opening of the West Corridor Rail line in my neighborhood, I have been somewhat underwhelmed with how well it seems to be performing in terms of ridership. There are probably several reasons for this, but one of them that certainly plays a role is a lack of residential density along the line.

I recently read Vishaan Chakrabarti‘s book “A Country of Cities” in which he suggests that mass transit rail service is inefficient (i.e. it doesn’t attract enough ridership to pay for the cost of operation) at residential densities less than 30 dwelling units per acre (du/acre). Since it’s sort of difficult to imagine exactly what exactly 30 du/acre looks like,  I thought I’d see how my neighborhood compared.

The West Colfax Neighborhood of Denver, shown outlined in orange in the map below, covers 540 acres. The neighborhood is served by four light rail stations and nearly 75% of the neighborhood is within one-half mile of a station as shown by the larger circles on the map (thanks to DRCOG’s new Denver Regional Equity Atlas from which I took the image). Click on the map for the full-size version.

Currently there are approximately 3,600 dwelling units in the neighborhood. That means that on average there are only 6.6 dwelling units per acre. Sadly this isn’t anywhere close to Vishaan’s suggested density and probably has something to do with why I generally see a lot of mostly empty trains.

Of course I’m not one to take one person’s word as the gospel truth and I seemed to recall my urban planning professors in college quoting numbers closer to 20 du/acre, so I set out to see what sort of numbers I could find with a bit of web research. Sadly, I didn’t find many hard and fast numbers; the numbers I did find varied greatly. On the low end, a study by UC Berkeley’s Center For Future Urban Transit (PDF) suggested that light rail could be efficient between 9 and 12 du/acre depending on the size and strength of the Downtown market it served. Similarly, the LEED ND standards award credit for projects that are within a walking radius of mass transit AND contain 12 du/acre or more, suggesting that this might be an important threshold. The few other numbers I found  ranged upwards from 20 to 40 du/acre. Apparently, there isn’t a clear answer, and I imagine it’s because usage depends on a multitude of other factors.

So how do all these numbers stack up in relation to West Colfax? How many more units do we need before we can cross these thresholds?

Currently I’m aware of about 150 new units that are under construction in the neighborhood. Additionally, the redevelopment of St. Anthony’s Hospital will add somewhere between 800 and 1,200 units of residential housing. Combined, this will add between 950 and 1,350 dwelling units to the neighborhood. At the high end of this estimate, adding 1,350 units to the existing 3,600 units (and dividing by 540 acres) gives us approximately 9.2 du/acre. This is barely enough to cross the 9 du/acre threshold suggested in the UC Berkeley study. To get to the seemingly better 12 du/acre threshold, we’d have to add yet another 1,530 units of housing on top of what’s currently planned. To get to Vishaan’s suggested 30 du/acre, we’d need to add over 12,600 dwelling units to the neighborhood!

Now, that’s a lot of units; just what might that look like?

Currently, Capitol Hill is probably the densest neighborhood in Denver. The neighborhood (bounded by Broadway, Colfax, Downing and 7th Ave), which covers about 430 acres, had nearly 11,300 dwelling units back in 2000 or approximately 26.3 du/acre. I apologize for the old data; it’s what I had handy. The area is probably closer to 12,000 units by now. In any case, one would have to add the entire housing stock of Capitol Hill (and then some) to the West Colfax neighborhood to reach Vishaan’s 30 du/acre recommendation. That is an enormous amount of housing. While it’s probably not very realistic given the current status of land ownership and zoning allowances in the area, I guarantee it would help to fill all those trains.


Gates Redevelopment: Planning for Innovation

“When people come together they become much more productive” – Geoffrey West

Currently, the Old Gates Rubber Plant is being demolished. Its long anticipated demolition will pave the way for years of development and, in the end, provide South Denver neighborhoods with new places to shop, eat, hang out, and better connect with new friends.

This piece will not cover the demolition timetable, the history of the site, or what might have been; this is a piece laying out an idea for something new, something interesting, something that will continue to make Denver a lure for future generations to move to Colorado.

Imagine a cutting edge research institute within ten minutes of downtown Denver. A site that has great access to open space, public transit, historic neighborhoods, and great parks. This site would have a bustling center with shops, apartments, great restaurants, and tons of energy. The heart of this community would be built around innovation, creativity, and the next generation of scientists, designers, and entrepreneurs. A place where new technologies are being built in cooperation with universities, businesses, nonprofits, and local municipalities.

What I am envisioning is something best defined by Bruce Katz: an Innovation District is a location that clusters leading-edge anchor institutions and cutting-edge innovative firms, connecting them with supporting and spin-off companies, business incubators, mixed-use housing, retail and 21st century urban amenities.

The concept of the Innovation District it is not drastically different than the original plan for the redevelopment, where it is different is the clustering of anchoring institutions, and supporting companies. I am imagining a series of facilities that satellite locations for: CU, CSU, and the School of Mines. If done correctly, the three schools could share their resources in the purchasing of equipment, better run challenges, and foster new businesses that utilize students from the different institutions.

In terms of supporting organizations, space could be provided for the many other schools around the city: Metro, Johnson & Wales, the Art Institute. This connecting of universities would allow non-technically oriented students to assist these future companies with help in marketing, accounting, advertising, planning, art, etc.

Outside of schools, this would provide an impetus for businesses to relocate to Denver, they would have a plethora of talent to pull from, researchers at close reach, transit, historic neighborhoods within walking distance, a newly enhanced S. Platte River, and all within 10 minutes of Downtown Denver.

http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2013/12/30-silicon-cities-katz#


The Business of Urbanism: Platt Park

With a strong downtown, the surrounding neighborhoods will thrive.  A recent example of this is the Platt Park neighborhood. It has been a strong neighborhood for a long time, but as of late there are many new businesses and buildings breaking ground from one end to the other.

On a recent walk through the neighborhood I saw a whole series of new businesses, either just opened or very close to opening. There is the recently relocated Sushi Den, Steam, 5 Green Boxes (in a new location), Izikaya Den, a new Tavern, and a brewery set to open next year.

Steam: A great new coffee house

   

Izakaya Den

In terms of new development, it is mostly located in the Northern end of the neighborhood both north and south of Mississippi.  Currently, one major set of buildings is under construction and ground has broken on what could be as many as three new developments.

Just about to break ground South of Mississippi

New construction next to Duffeyroll

Platt Park is presently one of hottest spots for retail, residential and new restaurants.  Talking with the neighbors they both enjoy this and are frustrated by the increased attention on the neighborhood. In the past the bars and restaurants were closed early, but this may change as more and more people choose to spend their evenings hanging out on Old South Pearl. One of the other issues coming to light is the lack of parking. Spots that have normally been taken by the neighbors are now being used for customers and this is causing issues for both residents and business owners.  An interesting idea that I think has merit is to bring the pedicabs from downtown and have them run through the neighborhood. It could really connect the neighborhood and lessen the burden on parking off of Pearl St.

Having visited Old South Pearl Street for years, I am excited to watch the development. It is great to see new buildings sprout up and see what new businesses pop up to support the growing community.


DIA Construction Progress

Thanks to our friends over at RTD, we have some amazing pictures of the massive construction project that is the South Terminal Redevelopment Program (STRP)! Construction looks to be progressing well as the elevator shafts have topped out and crews are working on what looks to be about the 4th floor of the new building.

Click here to check out some of the great pictures. The hotel should be complete sometime in 2015 with rail service starting in 2016!